Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bootheel Mood Swingers

What makes us want to create? My father won a songwriting award during his freshman year of college. He still has the trophy sitting on a shelf in his home-office. Throughout my childhood, I remember him playing “Little Red Riding Hood” and other tunes on his twelve-string guitar. My mother occasionally pounded on the piano, but that’s about all she did, musically. She took tole-painting classes one autumn (I was five, so I followed along), I remember because she kept the imaginary playground drawings I created, rather than the majority of her own farm animal oil-reproductions. My sister and I both play a bit of piano by ear, though neither of us pursued it enough to know any tunes by heart.

A year ago, my parents retired, within a couple months their boredom had led them to join a folk music band. They have gigs all over the southern Midwest (mostly Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas). Their bread and butter is traditional mountain music (Appalachian/Ozark style) at festivals and such, though they have played in a couple concert halls. My parents play a myriad of instruments (dulcimer, guitar, dobro, fiddle, pennywhistle, mandolin, and autoharp) with a group of three or four other lap-dulcimer players. They call themselves the “Bootheel Mood Swingers”, because of their location (the bootheel of Missouri) and basically the band’s members include my father and four women in the throws of menopause.

I’ve commented before that the world is full of people that “become artists” upon retirement, rather than dedicating a life to the pursuit. Santa Fe, in particular, has more than its fair share. Granted, I’m selfishly glad that my folks chose to wait until retirement to start their musical interests – my childhood was full of the materialistic fantasies we all desire, because of their sacrifice.

My children, on the other-hand, occasionally go without; due to my own self-centered endeavors. Particularly, the constant moving comes to mind. Then again, I lived in the same town from kindergarten through graduation and that much stagnation just made me want to break-away and live this continuous vagabond existence in exploration of new lands and societies. So how much of my art is about self-sacrifice and how much is just the path to self-fulfillment? – DN

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

First Impressions

Last night, a salesman dropped by the house; I’ve previously mentioned the fact that we live on a couple acres outside of Santa Fe, so when the door bell rang last night… we were caught a bit off-guard. After calming down our Newfoundland pup, Goliath, I walked from the backyard to the front and confronted our unexpected guest. He was my age, maybe five years older, at the most. He had hopped out of his Ford F250 and was walking around my Land Rover, eying the Montana plates. I wasn’t quite expecting what happened next.

“Are your parents home, son?” he asked.

“No, but my wife and three kids are,” I replied.

He was selling asphalt for driveways… door to door. Unfortunately for him, he struck-out with his first question. First impressions are sometimes the substance of an entire interaction.

Not long after moving to New Mexico, I toured the galleries in Taos. Now I don’t just like Taos… I love Taos. With a landscape reminiscent of western Montana and northern Idaho, it is as close to heaven as one can get in the high desert. The town is estimated at about six thousand year-round residents, four thousand of which consider themselves artists. It was in one of its best galleries, though, that I became disenchanted with the commercial nature of some decision-makers in one of the more high-profile sections of the art world. I won’t name the artist or the gallery, but suffice to say it was one of the BIG ones. The artist was ripping-off early Gustave Klimt works and doing quite a nice job at it. By ripping-off, I mean literally copying majority portions of famous oil paintings, including the entire figures as well as the exact placement of the gold and silver leaf. No reference was given to any of the more celebrated works or even a nod to Klimt in the artist’s statement… it supposedly came from within the mind of this New Mexico “wonderboy”, no one else. I mentioned the glaring similarities to the gallery director and even listed the names of a few pieces that he obviously knocked-off: Water Serpents, Medicine, and most of the sections of the Beethoven Frieze.

The director had this blank expression and then she stated, “I guess I’m not familiar with Klimt.”

I left in disgust. Although it was a horrible first impression for a Taos gallery, I know that it is not the norm for the Taos art market. What qualifications did this person have for her part in setting the status quo for art in northern New Mexico? Was her aptitude for decision-making simply based on the prerequisite that she was wealthy?

I typically love galleries, even more so than museums; and I thankfully realize that the above situation is not the norm for commercial galleries. When you walk into a space that has made all the right decisions, a moment of magic occurs. The fresh approaches and the contemporary artists’ penchant for working-out these new avenues without a net; is invigorating. When I tour the galleries, I live for that moment in-between… when you first look at a new work and then visualize the artist’s philosophy and life-changing dreams. – DN

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How Unfortunate for Something Like This to Happen to Such a Talented Individual...(Inject Sarcasm Here)

FBI Investigating Painter Thomas Kinkade "Former gallery owners said that after they had invested tens of thousands of dollars each or more, the company's practices and policies drove them out of business. They alleged they were stuck with unsalable limited-edition prints, forced to open additional stores in saturated markets and undercut by discounters that sold identical artworks at prices they were forbidden to match. Some also have accused Kinkade — touted as the most widely collected living U.S. artist — of scheming to devalue his public company, Media Arts Group Inc., before taking it private two years ago for $32.7 million as Thomas Kinkade Co." Los Angeles Times 08/29/06


Monday, August 28, 2006

When Stars Align

I always cringe when actors are called “artists”. It’s not so much that I don’t feel they have earned recognition for their craft as it is that I question their… suffering for the art. The majority of actors and musicians are poor or at least not making enough to survive without supplementary jobs; but the one’s we know about… the famous ones… make very good money.

I recently saw the film “Max” with John Cusack. This is the online description I found for the film:

In this provocative and well-acted drama, a fictional one-armed Jewish art dealer (John Cusack) tries to nurture an unpolished painter and fellow WWI veteran: a bitter, socially inept anti-Semite named Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor).

I’ve read that Cusack worked for free in order to make sure this film was made. Despite the fact that Cusack is already wealthy, he did commit a bit of self-sacrifice for his art. How often does this happen in Hollywood?

How do we as more traditional fine artists suffer for our own work? Is it the horrible self-loathing we experience when we go through the low stages of not creating? Is it the disregard that our friends and family endure when we become obsessed over a new idea? Where does the self-sacrifice begin and end? Will the work we make ever be enough?

I’m coming-up on another solo show in November and as a process-oriented painter, I have a love-hate relationship with exhibiting my work. I dislike the interruption, but enjoy the recognition from exhibiting. Each show takes about three months of concentration:

The month of last minute preparation before the show, the month during (when you wonder what works will sell and if it will be enough to cover the time that you put into the work), and the month after when the exhibitors deal with tear-down and return shipping (did they pack the work correctly, are the shippers competent, did the gallery/museum include all the printed materials from the show, how long till I get paid for the sold works?). All of these worries play havoc on concentration. – DN

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Touched by Fame, Untouched by Talent

One of the first shows I was involved with in my previous gallery gig life was to serve as co-curator for a retrospective of work from a retired faculty member of the local university. The key to that show had more to do with his background than his local fame or even the actual work. The significance of his training went back over sixty years, when he studied under Max Beckmann at Washington University in St. Louis.

Unfortunately, the artist I had to publicly present was not Max Beckmann. Not even close. This was a retrospective and I was stuck hanging early paintings of “puppy dogs playing with yarn” mixed with later works of “stereotypical Christian symbolism”. The most amazing aspect of the exhibition was that there was no improvement in the work over his sixty year span. Everything was completely devoid of technical skill. This guy made the most basic of mistakes with his use of perspective and cast shadow (he was trying to be a realist for some reason or other, so these comments are not off-base), yet somehow he was able to land (and keep) a tenure track professor gig at a southern state university. He came from a good school; he had a helluva a reference from a famous artist… of course he was allowed to teach art at the professional level. Now Washington University is a primo school and Max Beckmann was a living legend, so what was my artist’s problem? How did this guy seemingly learn nothing from these great influences? Could it be that outside authority can ultimately be meaningless… if it is purely professional… if no experimental living is done outside of the formal education? Did the famous Beckmann have any real influence beyond the few anecdotes that my artist told at the opening and in his newspaper interview? We all know the cliché that fame is not real; but ultimately, is fame ever more than a few anecdotes? – DN

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

We all seek our fifteen minutes, even if we don't care much for who it is with...

Bill Clinton recently turned sixty. I wasn’t a fan while he was in office, but I am certainly missing the “good ole days”, now. Maybe they weren’t so great, but they sure seemed better in retrospect. What do I like about him? – Well certainly not his wife. Hilary gives me the same type of night sweats that I felt every time I saw Teresa Heinz-Kerry on the television, two years ago. I suppose my interest in him has to do with his humble beginnings. Sure he went to the best colleges and did more than his fair share of questionable deals to get to where he is in life; but so does every other politician and most of them didn’t start out poor, with only one parent, in rural Arkansas. Clinton is often (mistakenly, I believe) compared to JFK; but the issue of humble beginnings is the one factor where Clinton actually trumps the great Kennedy. I have never met Bill, so I can’t attest to his notorious charismatic nature (though I did meet Jessie Jackson once, in DC at the Washington Hotel and that guy had an entourage reminiscent of the Pope). My point is this – humble beginnings… self starter… relentless dedication to your dream because no one else will achieve it for you.

Above is a picture of my group with Jessie Jackson in the lobby of the Washington Hotel. We were a group of museum directors that received Nathan Cummings Fellowships to go to DC and work at the Smithsonian as curators on their first on-line-only exhibition. JJ is the tall black guy in the back that looks like Jessie Jackson; I’m the pasty white guy on the right end in the red shirt. That was seven years ago, so a lot has changed. During my recent visit to the Midwest my family referred to me as “Grizzly Adams”, because of my long hair and beard. Additionally, I now tend to stand on the left side of most picture-taking opportunities and wear an orange shirt. – DN

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fame Seekers

What Motivates Fame Seekers? "For most of its existence, the field of psychology has ignored fame as a primary motivator of human behavior: it was considered too shallow, too culturally variable, too often mingled with other motives to be taken seriously. But in recent years, a small number of social scientists have begun to study and think about fame in a different way, ranking it with other goals, measuring its psychological effects, characterizing its devoted seekers." The New York Times 08/22/06

I’ve touched on this a bit in recent posts. What levels of fame are important to each individual? Art is particularly interesting from this perspective. Many of the famous modern artists of the last 100 years may be completely unfamiliar to most of the friends and family from my youth. So I cannot be motivated to become the next Julian Schnabel simply via their level of understanding. Does that mean I am unattached to the idea of fame? Certainly not; but it does bring into question - Just who am I trying to impress? – DN

Monday, August 21, 2006

Responsibility, Duty,Obligation - Does It Exist In Art?

At what point is it the artist’s responsibility to share? Do artists have a duty to other artists to offer a bit of their time and knowledge? If so does that also mean they should share their style? Do artists have an obligation to their own work to seek out a society of fellow artists in order to offer their art the opportunity to evolve?– DN

Friday, August 18, 2006

As Rocky Balboa Always Said... Absolutely

AUSTIN, Texas -- A high school art teacher who faced termination over her nude photos on the Internet has resigned in a settlement with the Austin school district.

Tamara Hoover submitted her resignation letter on Wednesday. Pending expected school board approval, she will receive several month's salary totaling $14,850 from the district.

Hoover had been on paid administrative leave since May 22 when the photos came to light as a result of a feud with another art teacher, according to sworn affidavits. Students who had seen the pictures showed the teacher, who then notified school officials. Some students rallied around Hoover, but her plight also drew attention to the risks of posting personal information online.

Hoover said she was saddened by the outcome but will focus on moving forward.

"I wasn't prepared to stop teaching," she said. "I never wanted to resign from teaching. I don't think this is the most ideal outcome."

The photos, which were posted on by her partner, depict Hoover in the shower, lifting weights, getting dressed, in bed and doing other routine activities. Hoover said the district was focusing on eight pictures among hundreds that were posted on the Web site.

In a statement released Thursday, the district said it "believes strongly in an individual's right of free expression, but as we all know, such rights are not absolute.”

"The district and Ms. Hoover disagreed as to the propriety of explicit nude photographs of her and others in sexually suggestive poses being placed on the Internet, and its impact on students and families, and thus, on Ms. Hoover's ability to be an appropriate role model and effective classroom teacher in AISD."

The school board voted in June to begin termination proceedings against Hoover. She was scheduled to argue her case in a mediated termination hearing next week.

Hoover's lawyer, Jay Brim, said it could have been a lengthy fight.

"When the district signaled it was willing to pay her some money to walk away, I told Tamara that was the right thing to do," he said. "This was a logical place for her to go on with her life."

Hoover said she plans to pursue a master's degree and teach at the university level.

… the district said it "believes strongly in an individual's right of free expression, but as we all know, such rights are not absolute”. Those are sobering words. I wonder - at what point are the rights of free expression not absolute? - DN


Gustav Klimt is important historically, writes Mario Naves. "But in the greater scheme of things, Klimt is small potatoes. Forget Modernism: If $135 million is considered a commendable investment for a picture by a minor artist, what price tag do we put on a painting by Fra Angelico, a sculpture by Donatello or a drawing by Durer? The question is undoubtedly lodged in the overexcited minds of museums, collectors and auction houses the world over." New York Observer 08/16/06

Is there any stage when work from a full-time (real, professional, legitimate – pick your description) artist can be considered anything other than an investment? Remove the question of whether the art is good or bad and respectively a good or bad financial decision. Is the purchase of art always considered an investment from the accountant’s standpoint? Who is qualified to say what is and is not an investment in the future art market? – DN

Thursday, August 17, 2006


“What’s more important – your goal, or others’ opinions of your goal?”

– Lucky numbers: 42, 7, 33, 21, 8, 30

I pulled the above quote from my fortune cookie, after a fine meal at the “WOK” (a wonderful Chinese restaurant in Santa Fe) last night. The words written made me stop and wonder - how often does an artist participate in a new art movement to further explore their studio process and when is it just another avenue in the search for popularity?

Say an artist does create something fresh. Once a style is established it can become even more difficult to grow artistically beyond this new comfort zone. How many artists lock themselves into their styles or the styles that sell, in an effort to remain accepted by their peers, collectors and galleries? Commissions are a slippery slope as well. I don’t believe I have to mention the idea of not compromising style for a quick buck, but how often do we, as artists, let the commissions stagnate us. Too busy creating in the established style of which we are already known, to allow our work to mature to the next level. – DN

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Trees with leaves… letterboxes with mail

I spent most of yesterday morning on the phone with the local post office. Seems that they lost the two weeks of mail I asked them to hold. Not misplaced, not farmed out to other carriers, not even mistakenly sent to my neighbors. Just plain lost.

The employee I spoke with did apologize, but it seemed sort of empty. I’m not holding my breath that I’ll get my lost mail anytime before Thanksgiving. I run lines of credit for a handful of my regular patrons and it was during this two week vacation that many came due. I felt like a heel calling and asking them to cancel and resubmit payments. Fortunately, everyone understood the situation.

On another note… yesterday I mentioned an artist torn between two very rewarding careers… one of which offers more time to produce art (at least this is my opinion). How often can artists break the mold and successfully venture beyond the world of self-indulgent creativity? Or are artists more likely to triumph in new paths that further coddle their narcissism? I often think about working in fields outside the strict adherence of painting, but still under the umbrella of creativity, research and philosophy. I’d enjoy the opportunity to publish one or two things that are always running around my brain. Everyone with a love of books has a somewhat buried urge to produce their own story or perspective on life. You can’t get more conceited than that; but is it possible to create while under a different umbrella, one with the influence of money, business commitments, etc. Does the work then begin to fall more under the “hobby” category?

Jimmy Carter thinks he can write poetry (it rhymes, that’s about it) and even the dapper Prince Charles has published a postcard book or two featuring his dreary attempt at watercolors (watercolours - for my friends on the other side of the pond). Both completely believe in themselves as “artists”. As a professional artist, am I too quick to judge when I say otherwise or do I truly know what I’m talking about and am simply protecting the thin veil of integrity remaining in the art profession? – DN

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Clichés Are All the Rage

While back in Missouri, I considered looking-up a few friends but never put forth the effort to track them down. Suddenly, this morning I am back in New Mexico, typing on the laptop while looking at my mountain out the kitchen window. Now that I’m gone I’m thinking of the friends I left back east, without as much as a hello. I’m also reconsidering the size of the world that I once thought to be immense and now seem easily within reach with the only requirement being a day’s drive or passport and flight.

On the return drive across Texas to the New Mexico border, my wife mentioned friends we have living in Israel and I wondered how they felt about the United States and France “hammering-out” a peace deal, while they’re the ones living with the constant threat of annihilation via the religion of peace. The news reported the other morning that “everyone” would now be required to remove their shoes for inspection prior to boarding a plane. I’ve always laughed at the ridiculous questions one has to answer when checking luggage at the airport. Questions such as: Are you carrying firearms? Did anyone give you a package to carry? But sometimes I wonder if we need to add one: Are you Muslim? I hate the idea of profiling, but there comes a point when political correctness seems absurd. Then again, I don’t want my Hindu friend getting mistreated because the $7/hr airport screener was too ignorant to recognize the obvious differences between an Indian and an Arab or even a sari and a burqa. My generation is globally dominant over previous generations in the areas of information and finance. We expect to travel both domestic and internationally as easily as we communicate. Yet events such as the recent airline terrorist threat in London interrupt our self-imposed advancements - so where does this leave us? Do we let the terrorist win by strip searching 80-year-old women or do we damage our own values by profiling Muslims?

I’ve always been interested in labels, profiling and other generalized uses of stereotypes. How much of being an artist is living up to the hype of the artist stereotype and how much is real? How often to we profile or judge a known artist when we look at the way they live their non-art existence? Is there such a thing as a non-art life for a professional artist? Another Blogger, that I read, is a part-time-professional artist with a great day job, but she is currently considering a career-change. Now here is the hard part - is she an artist with a great day-job or just a respectable college administrator? Can she be both? Being a professional in any field includes a lot of after-hours work, meetings, etc. So does making artwork; but does the fact that she “is an artist” interfere with her ability to have a “normal career” life without the wrath of judgment from the art world – if she still wants to make art (which she does). At what point does the artist live the stereotype and what point is the artist simply living for the stereotype? Who is more at fault for perpetuating the idea of the vagabond artist – society or artists? Who is more judgmental of artists’ lives – society or fellow artists? – DN

Monday, August 14, 2006

Trees with Leaves

I returned last night from a two week excursion to the Midwest. The trip had five purposes:

  1. Visit with Family
  2. Gather images and information for a new series of paintings referencing landscapes from my childhood
  3. Meet with the Director of the Margaret Harwell Art Museum regarding an upcoming solo exhibition
  4. Watch a Cardinals baseball game at the new Stadium
  5. Eat good southern BBQ and fried catfish

All went well and now I am at home again waiting to see if my mail actually “starts-up” again this afternoon, per my request (mail delivery is notoriously unreliable in Santa Fe, so I’m not holding my breath).

The family visits went well, but by the end of two weeks, I remembered why I have lived one and two thousand miles away, the last few years. They have their lives and schedules; while we (my wife, kids and I) have our own established routines as well.

I traveled “home” across the splendid Ozark Hills of my southern Missouri youth. Although, I shot a couple flash cards full of images with the digital camera, I mostly just rolled-down the windows and smelled the hills. Trees with leaves… my friend Gaelon mentioned the phenomenon a few months back and this most basic of concepts had stuck with me like a hunger craving I couldn’t feed, until this return visit to the east. It seems strange to think that these last few years, I’ve been almost exclusively surrounded by the evergreen variety of trees with their sweet smelling needles.

I didn’t however miss the unbearable humidity-fueled-heat the closer I drew to the Mississippi River. At one point I ventured further east to the hills outside Paducah, Kentucky; but I only found the Ohio River burning the region even hotter than Missouri. On August 1st, my wife and I watched the Cardinals play the Phillies in the middle of their eight game losing streak. The new ballpark is beautiful, though I’ll always miss the coliseum-like atmosphere of the old Busch Stadium.

As mentioned above, I have a December 2007 solo exhibition scheduled at the Margaret Harwell Art Museum in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. While in town, I toured the impressive two-story museum and discussed the logistics of the show. They have requested between 40 and 50 scrolls, so I am pretty excited about returning to the studio after my “vacation” to the Midwest.

On the return trip, we stopped for two days in Fort Worth to visit my friend Hank and his family. We had a great visit that I wish could have lasted longer, though I had somehow forgotten the craziness of Dallas/Ft. Worth traffic. And that's what I did on my summer vacation... - DN

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Status Quo

When is change necessary and at what point is it just to facilitate the status quo?

Yesterday, my daughter mentioned that she missed the freedom of riding her bike around our Montana town. Its not that she is unhappy so much as she is just missing a bit of self-determination from a bygone moment in her life. Sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t all miss our liberty a bit more.

Her comment reminded me of how I felt years ago in Missouri, when my parents moved the family from our modest home a few blocks from my elementary school to the much classier subdivision ten miles north of town. I was the same age as my daughter and the child of a teacher while my closest friends were mostly doctors’ kids, a fact that intimidated my folks whenever I had friends visit. However, I liked the little house my father had bought for a song (less than $20k, if I recall), then gutted and rebuilt to make comfortable for our brood. We had a large yard, kind though simple neighbors and easy access via means of kid transportation (bicycle) to all the places that made being young great (the drug store for comic books and candy, the school for the playground, etc). Simple living, though, must always make room for change, so with visions of grandeur my parents moved the family to a larger nicer home that removed too many opportunities for trouble, such as white chat roads that prevented much of the traditional manners of youth travel – like bikes and skateboards. Ironically, I care more about the loss now, than I did then; life can change quickly for a kid, but something about youth seems to make rolling with it, effortless.

My wife has a similar bond to the farm house experiences of her youth. At the age eleven, her family moved uptown, as well, leaving the farm-life and its child-envisioned freedoms behind. I know our parents had all the best intentions when they moved for the sake of their children; as did I when I relocated my daughter from that slow-moving high plateau near the Canadian border to the much classier high desert coolness of New Mexico. I saw the change as placing her into a better elementary school in a chic section of town, but she saw it for what it really was – moving to a place where being a kid was no longer such a simple task.

Growth and change are necessary in art, but occasionally the purpose of one can mislead the other. Occasionally, we require protection from our protectors when too much safety can feel claustrophobic and what we need most in life is a touch of trouble in order to build the soul. At what point, though, can an artist step outside of their comfort zone to experience the artistic style of the region without becoming a charlatan? When can that same artist refuse the change and simply utilize the region itself to glean inspiration without falsely-embracing popular culture? Most importantly, though, when does environment no longer matter and the artist can ignore the status quo and simply encompass the nature of the label without becoming labeled? - DN

Local Flavor

John Crosby founded the Santa Fe Opera in 1956 "among the high hills a few miles north of the city. Over the decades of his visionary and sometimes autocratic stewardship, Crosby evolved a trademark artistic profile that has made Santa Fe Opera one of the nation's most distinctive companies..." San Francisco Chronicle 08/07/06

Click here to read the entire article. - DN

Monday, August 07, 2006

Updates in the Works

I'm playing around with a new layout for both the website and possibly the blog (though I'm not sure how well the general blogger website adapts to change). The above images are variations of possible portfolio icons/buttons for the new sight.

Been a while since the last posting, explanations are coming, I promise. - DN